Be Careful What You Sign-up For
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
To review, I pitched at an immigrant entrepreneurship event in Florida in March and one of the judges advised me to go deep into the operations of my target customers. She told me that while she liked the breadth of my vision and projections, what would be of greater value to me was depth. The depth would reveal the insights needed to see where to pivot Havensent towards a narrow focus, instead of the bigger view I initially had. She was formerly with Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative and currently a start-up advisor at Florida International University, so there was added gravitas to her advice.
So when I returned to New York City, I made sure to execute on her advice. I signed a contract between Havensent’s parent company, GrantAnswers, and a key partner I had identified from the beginning. It was the largest contract I had ever signed in terms of dollar value, but also large in terms of access and responsibilities. It actually took me some time to sign the contract because I knew it would put pressure on time capacity. However, I anticipated that it would create financial visibility to the point where I may not have to seek a loan or a huge amount of external funding until major traction is reached and it’s time to really scale.
What I didn’t anticipate was the strain on energy and mental capacity. The past 3 months have been some of the most draining I’ve had. Because of competing responsibilities with key partners and priorities I had set forth for the venture, my time management, delegation, and coping skills have been put to the test. I have had trouble turning work off and being more present in the non-work, non-start-up aspects of my life.
To help cope, we have returned to the project management tool, Trello. While not as robust as other tools like Jira for product development, Trello is simple and gives a visual of our to-do list and what we have accomplished. We have also been recruiting a talented potential team member who is currently trying to compromise with me on a weekly schedule to contribute remotely to Havensent as she leaves New York.
I have also signed up to volunteer to help entrepreneurs at NYC’s Zahn Innovation Center. City College is where I got my start, so it’s only right to go back to my roots and contribute. Also, I know the struggles many of their new entrepreneurs are facing and perhaps a little misery does love company. I also re-connected with one of the judges for Communitas America’s Impact Ventures second cohort, which led to connecting to a diverse group of interns at NYC’s Company. I also went to support a member of Havensent’s original team who started his own venture and was accepted into the Dorm Room Fund’s Blueprint project. In times of strain, finding individual ways to cope is fine, but supplementing it with ways to build more community is needed. I find no better way to build community than to help others.
Being aware of these challenges and how I was coping, I made a conscious decision to be very conservative with spending for the last 3 months. In the past, consumption was a way of coping with personal stress. But as I have grown in my Founder/Executive role, I have developed a discipline to pull back on spending in challenging and uncertain times.
What I did gain from my decision to sign a big contract with a partner was financial security. I can project at minimum $40,000 through the end of this year from services alone. My business and I have no debt. We still haven’t spent 10% of the funding I earned from Communitas America’s Social Impact fund. We’re saving up for crucial investments in a time of greater certainty and a better headspace for myself. When I weigh the benefits of this financial visibility and discipline with the extra pressure and responsibilities, I assess my decision to be break even in the short term. I know we entrepreneurs are taught to fail fast, but my long-term perspective leads me to believe my decisions will pay off in an extended time-frame. In a world where highly-unprofitable startups like Uber & Lyft are celebrated, I’m more than ok with increasing profitably considering my long-term vision not even close to being fully implemented.